With no FEMA money coming, Overland Park ponders future of long-closed Turkey Creek trail section

A section of the Turkey Creek trail has been closed since 2017 after a landslide did serious damage.

With no federal money on the immediate horizon, it appears a decision about restoring the long-closed section of Turkey Creek Trail is back on Overland Park’s plate.

The trail section near Interstate 35 and Antioch Road has been closed for since 2017. A heavy rain in May of that year washed out the trail and retaining wall. Another storm in July loosened limestone boulders from the hillside and sent them down across the trail.

With repairs estimated at $1.2 million, the city had hoped for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But Monday night City Manager Bill Ebel told council members that no FEMA money is forthcoming.

The trail repairs were among the projects that had been requested but were not included on Ebel’s proposed capital improvement and maintenance budget planning for the next five years. His budget is the first step in a process that will set the city’s spending priorities on buildings and street maintenance.

Although Ebel did not include the trail on his proposed fix list, he said it would doubtless come before the council and its committees during budget discussions this year, as council members decide whether the benefit and use of the trail merits fixing it soon.

Total capital improvement spending would tick upward

The capital improvements budget as presented by Ebel would put $190.3 million into building projects at parks and swimming pools and fire stations over the next five years. That’s an increase of 3.9 percent over the five-year building budget approved last year.

Another $122.4 million would be spent on maintenance infrastructure, about a 5.9 percent increase. The maintenance budget has grown more than 20 percent in the last two five-year planning cycles, he said.

One reason for increased spending this time around is a surprise fix needed for a College Boulevard bridge over Indian Creek. The 25-year-old bridge has been degraded by the freeze and thaw cycles and is now failing considerably ahead of its expected 75-year life expectancy.

The bridge is still safe to drive on for now, but will cost $8.2 million to save, Ebel said. “That essentially reduced our capacity of the (capital improvements plan) to use in other projects we were looking to program,” he said.

Including the most critical needs requested in the next five years would mean borrowing more money than the city has in the past, Ebel said. He figured a debt of about $39 million for the 2020-’24 plan, which is about $11 million more than the plan presented last year. The city would still be within its debt standard, he said, but the higher amount might reduce the flexibility in spending in the operating budget.

Ebel also cautioned that there are some “risks and threats” ahead, such as the state’s property tax lid and the outcome of a request by big-box retailers to change way their stores are valued, which would result in a “catastrophic” loss of about 30 to 40 percent of the city’s property tax revenue.

But the proposed budget would include some notable highlights. About $5.5 million is proposed for yet-to-be-determined improvements in 2022 to the Farmers Market, now that the city has decided not to move it. The first phase of improvements to the restrooms, concession and office building at Young’s Aquatic Center, 8421 W. 77th Street, also has $2.9 million earmarked for 2020. Upgrading the actually swimming facilities would come in a subsequent phase. The plan also calls for $1.7 million to replace halogen lights at Scheels Overland Park Soccer Complex with LEDs in 2021.